September 8, 2012

A HOLIDAY WITH A DIFFERENCE

Unbelievably, it is almost five years since we bought our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny. 

The fifth anniversary of first standing on the little terrace and having that “this is the one” moment passed just before we set off for our recent holiday at the end of August.  The anniversary of the day we signed the compromis de vente passed while we were there and the anniversary of finally getting the keys will be coming up in November.

As soon as we announced to my father in 2007 that we were going to buy a holiday home in France, he immediately got himself a passport.  But no matter how much we tried, we could not persuade him to come with us.  He was full of enthusiasm at first but as the years went by he became less and less inclined to make the trip.  His main worry was being taken ill on the journey, or while we were in France, and ending up in a French hospital.

A few weeks ago, at the age of 83, he changed his mind and, at last, decided to come !!

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The ferry port at Dover at 9pm.
 
We rearranged the travelling to include an overnight stay in Calais, breaking the journey and making it easier for Dad.  Then when we thought about it properly, the prospect of getting three adults, a large poodle and all our luggage in one smallish car looked like a problem.  So we bought a top box.

Then when I contacted Eurotunnel to tell them our car would no longer be less than 1.85 metres in height, which meant we wouldn’t fit in the double-decker carriages and would need to be in with the coaches and caravans, they informed us they had no spaces left.

It was lucky I thought to make that phone call, or we would have turned up at the tunnel only to find we were unable to travel !!  So I booked us onto the ferry instead.

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Nick settling Lulu down for the ferry crossing.
 
This is the first time we have taken Lulu on the ferry.  I was very nervous about it and didn’t like the idea of leaving her in the car, by herself, on the car deck for more than 1½ hours.  The beauty of travelling through the tunnel is that you stay with the car, so you don’t leave the dog alone, and it only takes 35 minutes.

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Being the first on means you are also the first off the boat.
 
I know that other people take their dogs on the ferry regularly with no problem at all, as do our friends Chris and Gail with their English setter, Skye.  But this was the first time for Lulu and I was fearing the worst.  What if she became anxious and needed to go to the loo?  What if she started barking and caused a fuss, even setting off other car alarms?  My imagination was running riot but while I got my dad to the upper decks, Nick settled her down and she was, of course, absolutely fine.
A friend of mine once said that the only time something is difficult to do, is the first time.  It’s very true. 
 
It was worth ticking the “needing assistance” box on the booking form, and paying £10 extra for priority boarding.  This meant we were at the front of the line of cars to disembark and only a few steps away from the passenger lift – so we could get my dad up to the passenger decks without having to use the stairs.
 
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The very comfortable lounge on the beautifully appointed ferry.
 
The ferry seemed to be brand new.  Much better than the last P&O ferry we travelled on, which was probably more than five years ago.  On that occasion the boat was crowded and scruffy – I vowed I would never travel with P&O again. This time I was very impressed – everywhere was clean, sparkling and very comfortable.   We left the dock on time and arrived at the hotel at a sensible time to get a good night’s sleep.

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Setting off on the second leg of the journey.
 
We were up bright and early the following morning.  My dad wanted to make a detour on the way to the Loire, in order to visit the cemetery at La Neuville, near the town of Albert.
 
His uncle Sam, who he never knew, died in the battle for Albert in the Great War in 1916, as did his mother’s first husband.  She was only 24 and had three young children, my father’s step brother and sisters, when her husband died.  The two men were both buried at La Neuville.
 
Nick and I made the trip to the cemetery in 2006 and I wrote about it here.  It was a moving experience for us at the time and today was going to be a big day for my dad.
 
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The entrance to the little cemetery at La Neuville.
 
The cemetery was beautifully kept, just as the last time, and there had been a recent shower so the grass was fresh and green.

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The raindrops on the roses on the soldiers’ graves could have been teardrops.
 
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My dad pays his respect to his uncle, who he never knew, but has never forgotten.  He lost two uncles in the Great War.  The youngest was seventeen and he died just two weeks after leaving home to fight in France.
 
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My dad signed the visitors book and left a message, just as we had done six years before.
 
It was an emotional time for all of us and my dad was glad he went.  It was a big moment for him as none of his brothers and sisters have managed to make the trip.
 
After a solemn start to the day, we headed south towards Le Grand-Pressigny and we all cheered up as the clouds disappeared and the temperature began to climb.  A great holiday was in front of us !!

28 comments:

  1. Beautiful post, Jean. I'm glad your dad finally decided to accompany you on your holiday. I bet he had a great time. Ken told me that he was even considering moving to France with you! Good for him! Martine x

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    1. Martine, he enjoyed it - he did more in one week than he normally does in months.

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  2. Lovely post, Jean.

    I'm looking forward to reading about more of your adventures. It was important to your dad to make the trip with you and embark on a 'great holiday'. In life these are the things we remember - sharing our holidays and little corners of France with the people we love.

    All too often our lives in France are completely different to our lives in the UK - different friends sometimes even different interests. It's fantastic when those two worlds collide!

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  3. P.S. It took FOUR attempts to get the WV correct!

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    1. Gaynor, it was important to us too and, as you will see, it emphasised just how different our "two lives" are.

      I sometimes have to make several attempts at WV - it's a real pain.

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  4. Really nice post! So glad that your dad had the opportunity to visit the cemetery, and go on holiday with you.
    We've often visited WW1 cemeteries ourselves and even without the grave of a relative they are very moving places. The Commonwealth Graves Commission do a superb job maintaining them.

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    1. N&A, the cemeteries are so beautifully kept, it adds to the feeling of loss and respect.
      The war memorials we have come across in towns and villages all over France are also usually well looked after.

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  5. Your dad seemed full of beans and really to be enjoying himself when we met him! Neither of us managed to persuade our elderly parents over here and it's too late alas for them. And it's always moving to see the WWI cemeteries, so beautifully maintained, lest we forget. Pauline & Tim

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    1. Pauline and Tim, he surprised himself as well as us !! It's a shame about your parents and I'm so glad we will not have that regret.

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  6. I can imagine that the experience in the cemeteries around Albert was emotional for you and especially your dad. It was emotional for me when I went there a couple of years ago, and I have no family connections to that war or those battlegrounds. Thanks for the nice post and the photos.

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    1. Ken, we had the tiny cemetary all to ourselves, which added to the intimacy and emotion I think. Although car tracks in the wet grass on the lane indicated someone had been there earlier that day - to tend the graves perhaps. Looking at the visitors' book, there are only a handful of visitors every month.

      I wondered if the stream of visitors would dry up once my father's generation has gone and the connection becomes more distant.

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  7. Jean what a lovely post and I am glad that Lulu was a happy traveller. Nigel has an uncle at St Omer cemetery which we visited some years ago. So glad that you Dad has managed to visit the graves of his family. Your words of the rain drops as tears are very moving.
    We hope that you all have a great holiday, would love to see you if you have time. Take care Diane & Nigel

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    1. Diane, we were pleased that Lulu travelled well and it gives us the option of using the ferry again if need be.

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  8. Jean, this is a very moving and beautifully written post. I'm so glad you managed to persuade your father to come with you this time and that he was able to visit his family's graves with you. I hope you all had a wonderful time.

    My 88year-old mother-in-law still loves coming with us to France almost every year for two or three weeks. This year was the fourth summer running....

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    1. Perpetua, it's nice that your mother-in-law can come with you so often. We will have to wait and see if my father wants to make the trip again, he found the journey very long and tiring I think.

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  9. Hi Jean we are glad your Dad came over and had a great time. I managed to get my Mum over last year and I am hoping when she has had her operation that she will feel up to coming over again. The war cemeteries are always moving especially when you look at the ages of most of the young men who died.

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    1. Colin, I hope your mum's operation goes ok. Your house is at least suitable for visitors - I will be explaining how we managed later !!

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  10. What a moving post, Jean. I lost two great Uncles in the First World war who I never met either so I can identify with what it meant to your Dad.

    I'm so glad the journey went well for everyone. May it lead to many more.

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    1. Sue, it's strange how we can feel the loss of our great uncles, people who we never met but we might have done, if they had not been killed in the war.

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  11. I hope you all have a really good break.

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    1. Alex, nice to see you here !! Thanks

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  12. Hi Jean, I love reading your posts and this one was very touching, not only the fact that your Dad finally made the trip over at 83 but also that Lulu was good on the journey and of course the visit to the cemetery. I hope that you Dad loved his holiday in France.

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  13. I am so happy that your Dad was able to eventually visit with you in France.....what a lovely and sentimental experience for him.
    No need to worry about Lulu, she is a lady, and ladies know how to carry themselves in company.....good girl.
    Hope you had a wonderful holiday with your Dad visiting.

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  14. what a touching story
    I too have a great uncle buried in France 'in the Great War' - perhaps 'next door' as it were!

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  15. For some reason I found this quite moving. Hope your Dad enjoys his visit to France and that he makes a return visit.

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  16. So wonderful that your dad was able to go with you, and that the trip went so well.

    I understand a bit of your Dad's experience. I have an uncle who I never met, who is buried in France, who also died in the Great War.

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  17. What a moving story and special day at the cemetery.

    The ferry looks extremely nice. I've only ever done the tunnel. I hope your dad wasn't too uncomfortable in the back of the car with Lulu. No wonder it took so long to convince him to travel with you!

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